Conquer Stinky Tofu at 5 Joy in Foster City
There's no beating around the bush with stinky tofu. The smell is very similar to expired milk. It's not a pleasant aroma.
But the taste doesn't stink if you can handle the smell.
Stinky tofu is one of the most popular dishes of Taiwanese cuisine. At 5 Joy in Foster City, you can almost smell the it simmering in the kitchen. This is the real deal and best enjoyed in steamed form. The more popular fried stinky tofu has a shell that covers up much of the intensity, and can also dry up the tofu meat interior.
Stinky tofu is basically tofu aged up to six months in a fermentation brine that allows for various bacteria to penetrate the tofu, before being rinsed away prior to cooking. If this sounds unappetizing, just think about your favorite bleu cheese. The flavor profiles are very similar too, with the stinky tofu's age providing a captivating nuttiness that makes the taste of the soft, tender tofu much more bearable than the smell.
5 Joy -- which ferments the tofu off-site using a brine made with mustard greens -- takes a few extra steps to make this version of stinky tofu more than just a truth or dare concept for diners. Diced pork, scallions, black beans and shelled edamame beans arrive on top of the large wafer-shaped tofu islands that look like fried egg whites, all sitting in a broth of boiling chili oil. The broth itself is extremely similar to what you'd find for the classic Szechuan dish ma po tofu, with a good kick of peppery spice as denoted by the chili pepper on 5 Joy's menu. Every inch of tofu is penetrated by the broth, helping to tone down the funk a few notches.
To tone down the heat, order the restaurant's "sliced gluten" -- a chilled, spice-free side our waiter advised ordering as a contrast. He was right. Cubes of hoisin-marinated seitan were tossed with edamame beans and shitake mushrooms that offered intense levels of umami.
After an excellent meal, take advantage of 5 Joy's location on the bayshore and walk of the smell from your clothes so your home doesn't remind you of stinky tofu's delicious aroma.
1489 Beach Park Blvd., Foster City; (650) 345-1762.